15 years ago on our first cruise (Disney's brand new ship), we were docked next to the Carnival Fantasy in Nassau. Our Disney ship was like a fine dining restaurant docked next to a Taco Bell. We vowed never to sail Carnival, much less on the Fantasy. It had what looked like a million Christmas lights all over it, the music was VERY loud and went on through all hours of the night, and the people never slept. You know, the "fun ship". Disney had a steel drum band and lots of elegance.
Fast forward 15 years to cruise #7. Carnival sails the Fantasy out of Charleston, we live near there, the price was fabulous, and so we booked! Now, aside from that snooty first paragraph, we are very easy to please on vacation. We expect a good time, we bring along great attitudes, and have never had a bad cruise.
Summary upfront in case you don't want to read all my ramblings: We loved Carnival. We love the Fantasy. There. Done. It was awesome!! Note that the time of year we sail is now always Winter and usually January. We have never been on a Spring Break cruise (probably a VERY different experience). Our first cruise (Disney 15 years ago WAS Summertime and that's probably why Carnival was rockin! We've not been on a Summer cruise since. We like the older clientele that comes with January cruising -- we are morning people.) Now for some details...
Embarkation was flawless. We got dropped off at the port to save $. Charleston and Carnival have this thing locked up tight as far as procedures. Everything was a breeze.
Food: Breakfast. The breakfast was exactly like the 4 other cruise lines we've been on. There is something for everyone and plenty of variety and nothing worth remembering. The coffee was very good. Lunch. We ate in the Celebration dining room once and at the buffet the other 6 days. The Caribbean buffet was phenomenal. The other stuff was fine too. Again, plenty of variety. The pizza line and the deli line take forever. Get an ice cream cone while you wait (or 2). The ice-cream machine (and frozen yogurt) is AWESOME. This is very tasty stuff, and there are machines in the dining room and outside near the pool. We each had 2 or 3 cones... per day... for a week. Legit. And these don't count towards dessert allotment. Dinner: LOVED DINNER. The 'everyday' menu and the 'today menu' were full of great choices and everything we tried was fantastic. I mean, very very good eats! Everything looked prepared with love and attention to detail. I will say that dinners aboard the Carnival Fantasy were every bit as good (perhaps better) than our other cruises.
Service: We've never had anything other than great service onboard any cruise. They are all fabulous!! Some people are more outgoing and fun than others, but all provide a high level of service and do their jobs well.
Dining time: We could only eat in the Celebration dining room because we did not have assigned dining time. It opened at 5:45. We got in line by 5:30 and waited with lots of other hungry people each night. The 2 times we came in after 7pm, we had to get a pager and wait for a table. The tables are mostly small here so you don't have to dine with other families. The other dining room (Jubilee) has more large tables. We cruised in January so mostly older people onboard = early eaters like us!
Cabin: We had an inside cabin with a bunk for the kid. The cabin was functional and comfy. The bathroom was the same. It is not luxurious, but it is not lacking. Well, there is only 1 outlet plug. It is lacking in another plug but no harm done there. The water is hot and the toilet is loud. Same stuff, different ship.
Entertainment: Something for everyone! The Beatles show was the best thing I've ever seen! The bands were great, as were the comedians. We like to watch the art auctions sometimes too. If you can't find fun stuff to do on a Carnival cruise, you are too picky. The casino was packed. We enjoyed watching other people spend their money.
Shopping: There were some great deals on jewelry and other stuff. I was surprised at how the prices were very fair for many items.
Drinks: Ouch. This can really drain a wallet. Carnival had nothing unique going on there though -- cruise-industry-standard liquid and standard price list. We got such a great sailing rate, many fellow cruisers spent more on bar-tab than on cruise-fare. You've been warned. Cheers!
Camp Carnival for the little ones: Our son enjoyed it (he was in the 6-8 age group). It was not the best we've seen (you can't beat Disney on this stuff!). He's not picky. He went 2-3 hours a day and usually liked it...a tad bored at times, but not a deal-breaker.
Pools: It was January. The (few) kids had the pool to themselves. Brrr... The big slide was not open during high wind (we had a lot of that). The small slide was fun. The splash pad is a great concept for little ones. Again, January. I'm under a towel staying warm most of the week.
Ship: Some areas were very majestic and grand. Some were neon and very "Vegas". It is certainly not a new ship or a big ship or a fancy ship --but we LOVED it. This trip solidified our desire to not sail on one of the 4000+ passenger mega-huge vessels. I wish there were more ships like the Fantasy. The fantasy is big enough but not too big. We liked seeing the same people over and over and not having many long lines anywhere.
Nassau. This was #6 or #7 there for us. We finally walked beyond the 1-block of Bay Street and saw something new this time! Google this: Queen's Staircase. Walk there. For FREE! You'll be glad you did--especially if you've ever thought Nassau was dull. It was lovely, it was exercise, and it was awesome! We also stumbled upon the Pirate Museum. Loved that. Other than that, we had some nice conversations with locals, bought sodas for $1 and beers for $2 and enjoyed our day walking around. The Straw Market is worse than ever now though. They have 100 vendors all selling the same exact thing. I haggled for a cheap necklace that I ended up finding cheaper in a store.
Half Moon Cay: Didn't get to go because of wind.
Grand Turk: New favorite port. For FREE, you get the beach (with the best view of your ship!! You feel like you can swim up to it!), good snorkeling, shells, a FREE mega huge pool and some shopping without anyone asking you to buy anything (opposite of Nassau). The vendors ignore you until you need help... brilliant. Son did the Flowrider (google that) surfing thing. He loved it but of the 8 people that were in his group, 8 wiped out multiple times. You might need a chiropractor after the Flowrider. You've been warned. Hard falls happen. It was pretty much a bargain compared to most "excursions" though. $39 for 90 minutes. After about 45 minutes, his group of 8 had dwindled to 4. He slept GOOD that night but needed ibuprofen for neck pain the next morning. We loved Grand Turk and wish we could stay longer. (left at 1pm! = Not cool, Carnival, not cool.)
Disembarkation. Really, how do you mess this up? You can't. Vacation's over. Get your stuff, and get off the ship. The instructions are easy, and the process works. Some will gripe about elevators, stairs, times, etc. But really, 2000 groggy people with onset of vacation-conclusion-depression and the complaining inevitably starts -- not to mention they all just got their bar tab and final bill $$$$ --and reality set in quickly.
Budget: We are debt-free, frugal, simple folks. We buy zero pics onboard (tempting but unnecessary -- we hand our camera to strangers and trade pic-taking favors), 3 drinks, no sodas onboard (you should have SEEN me sucking down those 2 Coke Zeros in Nassau!), $5 in the casino (and won!), paid the standard tips, bought 4 bottles of liquor to take home for pet sitting and chauffeur, and 2 tshirts. We had a VALUE of a vacation and didn't feel like we missed out on anything! It was GREAT! We would love to sail on the Fantasy out of Charleston again next year!